Teams of rookie and sophomore players selected by Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley took the floor Friday night for the Rising Stars Challenge. Two members of the Minnesota Timberwolves were showcased as part of the All-Star Weekend festivities, as they both played for the victorious Team Chuck. Barkley's squad took down Team Shaq by a final score of 163-135.
Barkley took a lot of heat for his first selections for his team. After O'Neal selected Blazers guard Damien Lillard first, Barkley selected Hornets forward Anthony Davis instead of sensational Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. His logic: O'Neal couldn't afford to select two guards with his first two picks. He did just that, adding Irving to Team Shaq. Barkley then selected Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried. That decision worked out better than Chuck could have ever hoped, for two reasons: Faried scored 40 points and was named MVP of the game, and Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio played well enough to fill the potential point guard void.
In only 15 minutes of playing time, Rubio dished out 10 sensational assists. The personality with which Rubio played resembled the showman that fans got to know at this time last year. Always gashing through the defense (or the lack of defense in Friday's exhibition) and then suddenly firing one-handed passes that nobody saw coming, Rubio made distributing the ball look effortless. Many of the assists were alley-oops to the bouncy Faried.
Alexey Shved also put on a show in the game. As far as a national audience is concerned, Shved's performance probably came as more of a surprise. The young guard scored 12 points, 4 of them coming on electrifying reverse dunks. Shved drove the baseline for one and was the recipient of an alley-oop pass for the other. Even NBA fans who knew Shved had skills might not have known he was capable of lighting up the highlight reel the way he did last night.
The Timberwolves will be spectators for the rest of the weekend. They can take comfort in the play of Rubio and Shved on a national stage; those two guards will be key figures for the team as they figure out their direction in the near future.